Driving the backroads of Wicklow In The Shadow of Sugar Loaf Mountain
After leaving Powerscourt House, our drive became very interesting because Bob and I avoided using the main thoroughfares. Instead, we took to driving the back roads in County Wicklow in the Shadow of Sugar Loaf Mountain. We were on a search for adventure. Bob and I loved the canopy of trees that spanned the carriageway from one side of the road to the other, creating a living, green tunnel. It was reminiscent of our drives on the country roads in England.
Sugar Loaf Mountain was never far from our view, and around every corner, another spectacular view of lush green fields framed with hedgerows presented itself. I reveled in the beauty of the slopes that were covered in dense masses of yellow for as far as the eye could see.
I captured some lovely photographs of the surrounding hillsides and farms even as we moved along in our car.
Frequent stops were required to appreciate the picture-perfect vistas that came into view.
Bob and I originally debated on whether or not to rent a GPS unit, but I tell you, we were sure glad that we had. With such a maze of secondary roads crisscrossing the countryside, and nearly non-existent road signs, we would’ve been lost without it. As it was, we were able to relax and appreciate the beauty of the island that unfolded before us with Sugar Loaf Mountain not far away.
At one point along a stretch of the roadway, when Bob stopped the car so that I could snap a photo of the rolling Wicklow Mountains, I noticed a gentleman training a horse in a nearby paddock.
It was then that we took note of the sprawling acreage of what was Onagh Farm.
We learned from the trainer that he used to work at Woodbine Raceway in Toronto, our hometown. Chris Malone was his name, and within minutes, he asked if we would send him a photo of the horse after we returned to Canada. Of course, we said yes, and at Christmastime, I sent a few photos, enclosed within a greeting card.
The horse that Chris was working had been retired for 6 years and was only then being re-introduced to the saddle. It was a sleek equine specimen even if a bit antsy.
Knowing the proclivity of the Irish for horse races at the track, and the reputation for well-bred racehorses in Ireland, Bob and I thought our short interface with the trainer was very fitting given the locale.
As we continued on, the idyllic, pastoral setting did nothing to suggest the danger lurking beyond many of the corners. It was not uncommon to round a bend in the road and come up short where a car had been parked, right in the middle of the carriageway with the owner nowhere in sight. We surmised, in those cases, that the driver had gone for a hike on one of the many nature trails along the way.
In fact, at one point on our route, cars had to give way to a bunch of hikers sharing the tarmac. The group was hard to miss as we approached from behind because they occupied the whole roadway. We promptly pulled over, hoping for a chat.
The avid walkers were out for their daily jaunt, but they were more than pleased to take a quick break because of the very warm temperatures.
Being in the spring when Bob and I visited, vegetation was flourishing all over the countryside, and no less bordering the side of the carriageway. Even the ample shade did nothing to lessen the hot temperatures that everyone was enjoying for so early in the season.
Bob and I took advantage of the hikers’ knowledge to learn about the shrub that was so prevalent everywhere. Masses of the yellow blooming bushes spread behind us up the knoll at road’s edge, and in chatting with the locals, I learned that this is the plant known as gorse. I have come across mention of gorse plants in many novels that I’ve read, so I was pleased to finally become acquainted with it.
Gorse, it turns out, is an evergreen shrub that thrives in dry, sandy soil. Tiny leaves on green stems are adapted to withstand harsh dry conditions. As we drove about the countryside, we saw these shrubs used as hedgerows where they easily reached a height of 10 feet.
The gorse shrubs were so heavily loaded with bright yellow flowers that at first we didn’t notice its substantial thorns. Upon closer inspection, I was shocked to find such lengthy spikes in amongst the plant’s blossoms. They could be downright dangerous.
As if to confirm my suspicions, the hikers then informed us that the nasty barbs can cause serious rashes if you get scratched by them. We would have to be careful when hiking.
The Lackandarragh Lower hiking trail stretched along the country road for some distance before branching off into the wooded valley below. The hikers or trekkers soon continued on their way, disappearing from view as they descended a steep decline into the shady forest and the Glencree River.
Speaking of hiking, a series of uneven stepping stones surmounted the slope behind us leading to a stile. The intrigue inherent in that gateway to the beyond certainly tempted Bob and me, but we were unprepared for a hike that day so hopped back in our car and continued on our way.
Our handy, dandy GPS unit made it possible to change routes on a whim. Any narrow, one-lane track served to lure us in a new direction. We were ready for more escapades.
Bob and I had a blast just following our noses and let serendipity rule the day. With the wind in our hair and lilting Irish tunes playing on the radio, any cares we had were distant.
The narrow winding roads in County Wicklow made for exhilarating driving. We couldn’t believe the speed limits. They were equal to those on our freeways at home and these on such narrow routes. Really only wide enough to accommodate one vehicle at a time, numerous instances occurred where either we or oncoming cars had to pull off the road or back up to where the road was wide enough in order for two vehicles to pass.
How riotous, then, when we caught up to an unusual pale-green pint-sized car that was tailing a 3-wheeled motorcar. Both were barreling down the roadway with nary a concern for the oncoming traffic. I had to laugh out loud so comical was the sight…like something right out of a cartoon strip. At any moment, I expected the little red car might topple over.
The 3-wheeled car was a Messerschmitt-KR-175-microcar. These cars were designed to solve transportation problems during World War II. Such inexpensive vehicles, with a length of less than 10 feet, were perfect for cash-strapped families to navigate through densely populated cities. As we were soon to see, it ruled the day against all cars and huge trucks in Ireland.
Continuing on our journey, I, myself, felt like a character in a storybook…Wind in the Willows, to be exact. With “Toad” at the wheel, we went careening down the carriageway, our car tenuously gripping the tarmac at each sharp corner. Steep drop-offs were not an issue, but there were some significant gullies and forests along the way. There was me, gripping the door handle for fear of flying over the verge (shoulder) into the ditch.
Toad, as many of you may know, is the eccentric character made famous in the children’s book, The Wind in the Willows. He was well-known for his erratic driving and flamboyant personality. Hence, my amusing nickname for Bob.
“Toad” at the wheel…
For several kilometers, Bob and I were in hot pursuit of the two unique small cars even as cyclists whizzed past us in the opposite direction.
There was no room for error.
At long last, the inevitable happened. The traffic flow from both directions came head to head, but which vehicle would prevail?
It seemed like a standoff.
Fittingly, in the end, the huge Red Mercedes passenger van was forced to back up and give way to the much smaller cars, ours included.
Once passed that hitch, Bob and I continued merrily on our way back towards Glendalough. Cruising along, we were amazed at the plethora of ancient stone walls that stood staunchly at roadside and admired crumbling stone buildings for the history that they represented. Breathing in the sweet smell of fresh spring growth, we felt that life was good.
With our afternoon of adventure drawing to an end, we returned to the peaceful setting of Glendalough in the valley of the two lakes.
Drombeg Stone Circle – Our visit to The Druid’s Altar, Ireland